5 Years after Katrina and the 2005 Hurricane Season, and No Coastal Rescue Plan in Place

BP's Oil in Louisiana's Birds Foot Delta, May 2010This week, the New York Times green blog covered the Gulf restoration planning process, announced by President Obama in his June 15th Oval office address, and headed up by Navy Secretary (and former MS Gov) Ray Mabus.  The Gulf Restoration Network, and many other Gulf Coast Fund partner groups have met with Secretary Mabus many times on this effort, and we're urging our supporters to check out a coalition effort to inform the restoration and send an e-mail in support of a funded, community-informed, effective long-term initiative.

The 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is an important time to reflect on the state of the Gulf, and whether the coastal crisis exposed and exacerbated by the 2005 hurricane season, and now the BP drilling disaster, has received the national commitment it demands.  The Mabus effort is good to see, but its ultimate outcome is still a big question mark.

GRN hopes you take some time to get further engaged in advocating for long-term solutions.  Check out one of our nearly 200 film screenings happening around the country, watch President Obama's Katrina address (GRN ED Cyn Sarthou and I will be in the audience with our friends from the Louisiana Shrimp Association and Grand Bayou Community United), or mark the anniversary in some other way.

Will the Katrinaversary be another round of grand speeches on Gulf resiliency? Or will it be a reminder that we still haven't committed to the future of our Gulf, our coast, and our communities? We can look at the recreation and re-engineering of the New Orleans levee system as proof that our nation can commit and deliver on ambitious, expensive efforts when the need is understood and prioritized.  But the Gulf and the coast have never received that type of commitment.

Despite the acknowledgment of folks like EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (and apparently, her mom), that the coast is critical, Baton Rouge and Washington haven't delivered.  Projects have been envisioned.  Near-term, priority restoration projects in the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) study (a scaled down, inadequate version of 1998's Coast: 2050 plan) were authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  But the money hasn't followed.  With a pricetag of $7 billion, only $100 million has been appropriated.  The White House finally included $35 million for coastal restoration in their most recent budget (tellingly, the most ever allocated by a WH budget).  Through the Coastal Impacts Assistance Program (CIAP) directing oil revenues to states that are damaged by the industry, Louisiana was allotted a total of $497 million from 2007 through 2010. As of March 16, 2010, Louisiana has received only $131 million in CIAP grants for over 50 projects.   MRGO was closed, but the restoration efforts haven't been funded.  And on and on.

Piecemeal funding, dependant on the whims of Congress and the bureaucracy of the Corps of Engineers will be the death of our coast.

We need an independent revenue stream to implement a transparent, science-based restoration effort to save this region.  Whether that's from BP's clean water act fines and penalties, a processing tax on oil activity in Louisiana, a creative Superfund inspired liability suit against the oil companies who played a major role in destroying the coast, or simply a huge allocation from the Federal Treasury, it needs to happen soon.

We've been watchdogging the Corps double-time efforts to secure the region from storm surge with interest.  We've toured the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier.  We've been impressed by what the Corps can do with direct White House engagement and a lump sum payment.

The cost of the New Orleans risk reduction project?  $14 billion.  It's going to be done next year.

The initial cost of Coast 2050? $14 billion in 1998.  It hasn't even gotten off the ground.

Five years after Katrina is an appropriate time to reflect on this reality, and demand a change.

Aaron Viles is the Campaign Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, a 16 year old environmental advocacy organization exclusively focused on the health of the Gulf of Mexico.  Aaron is also an advisor to the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, a grant-making institution that supports progressive movement building in the Gulf Coast region.Follow him on twitter @GulfAaron.

This blog is a cross-post from http://healthygulf.org/blog